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A retired Wabash College music professor is publishing an Italian cantata that will be performed for the first time in more than 300 years.
The piece, which translates to “Eyes, you who aim,” was composed by celebrated 18th century cellist Antonio Maria Bononcini. It was last played in 1708 for Holy Roman Emperor Joseph I, his family and invited guests.
“How would audiences have reacted to this poor man whose just suffering from love and wants to cry it all out? They would have been amused. They would have delighted in the poetry, they would have delighted in the music,” said Dr. Lawrence Bennett, who uncovered the manuscript from a library in Austria.
The secular music will be part of Wabash’s Chamber Orchestra concert at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 8 in Salter Hall. Soprano Karisa Millington, a voice teacher and director of the college’s Glee Club, will perform the vocals.
Other performers include local musicians Carolyn Perkins and Julie Chalmers on flute and Wabash senior Aaron Webb on bassoon.
Harpsichord player Beth Garfinkel and cellist SeungAh Hong, both music students at Indiana University, will also be on stage. The concert is free and open to public.
During the 17th and 18th centuries, musicians performed cantatas throughout Europe for royal families and their guests at banquets and special occasions. “Eyes, you who aim” is part of a larger collection of Bononcini’s unpublished music edited by Bennett.
Bononcini and his older brother, Giovanni, a distinguished opera composer, traveled to royal courts in Italy and Austria in the early 1700s before Antonio pursued his own career.
Bennett, a music historian and tenor, began studying the family while researching Italian vocal music as a graduate student at New York University.
“Giovanni was the more famous [musician] but Antonio is, in my view, a better composer,” Bennett said. “He’s more detailed, there’s much more musical interest in his works.”
After publishing a book about Italian cantatas in 2013, Bennett wanted to publish some of Antonio Bononcini’s music. Copies of the manuscripts were stored in private royal libraries, “so it’s been left to people like me to go back to the archives… and look at all this music,” Bennett said.
Bennett contacted a publisher in Madison, Wisconsin for the project. The music will be released sometime late next spring. Bononcini composed another collection of cantatas featuring string instruments Bennett said he might be interested in also publishing.
“It’s been a long journey and… there’s always something more around the corner to do,” Bennett said.